Sunday, February 05, 2006

Documentary: WAL-MART-The High Cost of Low Price

    This past week I finally got around to seeing WAL-MART-The High Cost of Low Price. Trailer here. Overall I think it was pretty well-made. The beginning had a fair amount of small "mom and pop" store people talking about how they were put out of business by Wal-Mart, and because of the lack of really any argument at all during this portion, I didn't find it very convincing. But I can understand that if they want the documentary to appeal to a broad range of people, especially to the everday person, emotional "arguments" are an important component of anything that's going to motivate people to do something.
     It got better though. Discussion started to focus less on emotional issues and more on data, such as the amount of money that local and state governments have to pay to support the employees of Wal-Mart, as well as the amount that the Walton family gives to charity (they are all in the top 10 richest people in the US, I believe, but give less than 1% to charity; compare this to Bill Gates' ~50%). The Walton family is definitely out to help the rich get richer. One thing that deeply disturbed me was the fact that the Walton family had built themselves an underground bunker compound in case of a nuclear attack. In a world where corporations decide who, when, and why we fight, it's a scary thing to think that those who are calling the shots might be less than deathly afraid of a nuclear showdown.
     I also didn't realize how aggressive Wal-Mart is in fighting the formation of unions. Former Wal-Mart regional trainers talked about the extensive measures that Wal-Mart employs in order to combat union formation. This can often include cameras in-store, a rapid reaction force that will fly in from Bentonville (HQ) within a day's notice, and sometimes even a spy van which parks outside the building to listen to employee conversations. When talk of a union being needed starts to pop up, those in the response force from corporate headquarters take charge of the store and begin to fire people in the attempt to decrease the proportion of "union-minded" employees.
    And then the documentary moved to Wal-Mart's Chinese factories. Sometimes I hear people argue that while Wal-Mart may not pay its employees much, it overall is a force for good because it provides goods at a lower price to the consumer. I believe this segment on the overseas factories shows that any price benefit that Wal-Mart gives to Americans, it takes much more than that from those who are economically forced to work in its factories overseas. They interviewed a few people who worked in those factories, who gave some insight into the horrible working and living conditions (they have a "dorm" on-site, which they pay for out of their paycheck regardless if they choose to live there or not) as well as how they are told to lie to inspectors when they come to examine the conditions. And of course all this while they flood the TV channels with their propaganda of being a good, wholesome company.
    All in all, I thought it was a good documentary. Out of the many documentaries I've seen recently, this is the one that would probably be most persuasive to the largest amount of people. If anyone is interested in buying it, you can buy it from Amazon for $12.95, plus shipping. Alternatively, you can buy it directly from the producers for the same price by clicking on this link, and I receive $5 as a result! Plus, in order to help the documentary sell more copies, I'll send you back 4 of those dollars via mail (minus $1 for the stamp & envelope).

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